They walked through a labyrinth of tunnels which seemed to have been carved into a rocky mountain. The clicks and clacks of their high heels echoed in the cold silence meeting all of Sophie’s questions, leaving her wondering where they could be. Tightly held by her rompers she felt her fat mass wobbling like jelly around her skeleton. It didn’t help clear her mind which was still confused by the environment and the apparent memory loss concerning how she arrived there.
Sophie couldn’t tell how many turns they took before Barbara put her six fingers hand on a flat rock at shoulders height. The rock around the hand turned green and glowed for two seconds; then a big chunk of rock slid to the side revealing a well designed modern style room.
A little man was working at his desk. At least Sophie assumed it was his desk and that he was working. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and bermudas. The computer screen he was looking at projected a greenish tint onto his face, and it made him look just like the green man icon. Sophie cackled, a little at first.
The Doctor’s hand tensed on the mouse and his eyebrows gathered like angry caterpillars ready to fight. He must have made a wrong move because a cascade of sound ending in a flop indicated he just died a death, most certainly on one of those facegoat addictive games.
That certainly didn’t help muffle Sophie’s cackle until she felt Barbara’s six fingers seizing her shoulders as if for a Vulcan nerve pinch. Sophie expected to lose consciousness, but the hand was mostly warm, except for that extra finger which was cold and buzzing. The contact of the hand upon the latex gave off little squeaky sounds that made Sophie feel uncomfortable. She swallowed her anxiety and wished for the woman to remove her hand. But as she had noticed more than once, wishes could take time and twists before they could be fulfilled.
“Why do you have to ruin everything every time?” asked the Doctor. His face was now red and distorted.
“Every time?” said Sophie confused.
“Yes! You took your sleeper agent role too seriously. We couldn’t get any valuable intel and the whole doll operation was a fiasco. We almost lost the magpies. And now, your taste for uncharted drugs, which as a parenthesis I confess I admire your dedication to explore unknown territories for science… Anyway, you were all day locked up into your boudoir trying to contact me while I just needed you to look at computer screens and attend to meetings.”
Sophie was too shocked to believe it. How could the man be so misinformed. She never liked computers and meetings, except maybe while looking online for conspiracy theories and aliens and going to comiccons. But…
“Now you’re so addict to the drugs that you’re useless until you follow our rehab program.”
“A rehab program?” asked Sophie, her voice shaking. “But…” That certainly was the spookiest thing she had heard since she had arrived to this place, and this made her speechless, but certainly not optionless. Without thinking she tried a move she had seen in movies. She turned and threw her mass into Barbara. The two women fell on the cold floor. Sophie heard a crack before she felt the pain in her right arm. She thought she ought to have persevered in her combat training course after the first week. But life is never perfect.
“Suffice!” said the Doctor from above. “You’ll like it with the other guests, you’ll see. All you have to do is follow the protocol we’ll give you each day and read the documentation that Barbara will give you.”
Sophie tried a witty answer but the pain was too much and it ended in a desperate moan.
Nobody came at all yesterday, not to get my breakfast and leave my sandwiches for lunch and a tea flask, and the evening one didn’t come either. I didn’t have a cup of tea all day long, good job I found that bottle of sherry in the cabinet or I’d have been parched. I found a half eaten tin of assorted biscuits left over from Christmas, and had to make do with those. Not very nice because they were all the ones I don’t like, which was why I’d left them in the first place. I wasn’t too hungry to sleep though, not after all that sherry.
A woman came this morning, one I hadn’t seen before. I didn’t recognize her anyway, which doesn’t tell you much I suppose. She seemed distracted, and did a very shoddy job, I must say, lumpy porridge, burnt toast with no jam, and she forgot to put sugar in my tea as well.
You just can’t get the staff these days. No character to them anymore, just a series of faceless drones, it never used to be like that. The staff didn’t used to come and go and flit about like these lot, they were always there, as long as you could remember, part of the household. It all changed during the war though, the horrors of servantlessness. That was a rude awakening, having to do our own cooking and laundry. I’d have given anything to see even that feckless lazy Annie Finton, even if all she did was the ironing. The old boy turned out to have a knack for cooking and quite enjoyed it, so that was a blessing. Darned if I can remember his name though. Truth be told, he was better than cook had ever been. He wasn’t afraid to experiment a little, diverge from the traditional. I think the trouble with cook was that she hated cooking all along. She never came back after the war, she got a job in a factory. Liked the freedom, she said. I ask you! No accounting for taste.
“Crocuses in meadow, Flower, Flower”, was singing Eleri. Humming was more accurate, she didn’t recall much of the lyrics, but the tune was easy to follow. She was quite fond of that popular song and liked to sing it whenever she was going to town in her flower dress floating in the wind. She had thought it nice if Gorrash woke up with a festive atmosphere. It would certainly be a shock already that so much time had passed since he was last awake. She wondered if he would remember anything from his broken time. She hadn’t talked much with him before, especially about his day-slumber time.
“Chestnut in the woods”, she continued. Crack, crack made the dry twigs she walked on on purpose. It made her laugh and snort. She liked playing with her environment and made it participate in her own expression, it was like she had many voices and she could hear herself everywhere. She picked up a few chestnuts because she knew Fox was crazy about them. It was a blessing that the enchanted forest would still produce them out of season.
When she arrived in town, Eleri didn’t waste time. She wanted costumes and props for the party, so she went directly to the Jiborium’s Emporium where she was sure to find everything she needed, and more. There was a crowd blocking the entrance, but it didn’t deter her from her idea. She elbowed her way up to the door where a man in a wheelchair was complaining about having not enough room to go in. Still in a jolly mood, Eleri found it funny that the man who took so much space with his cumbersome vehicle was asking for more room.
“Move already”, she joined her voice to the man’s complaint and managed, Flove knows how to make the crowd part away enough so they could both enter the shop.
“Thanks, young lady”, said the grumpy man. “It’s a hassle sometimes you know to move in this town. People with good health they do not realise.”
“Oh! I know”, said Eleri. “My ankle just got better, but it was such a pain to move. I would have loved to have a chair like yours to move around, but alas I live in the forest most of the time and I’m not sure the chair would last long in there.”
“Oh! but it would! They have the cross-country model here, on the fourth floor. Powered by lightning battery.”
“Really?” said Eleri more to herself than for the man. Her mind was already elsewhere. “Thanks!” She kissed the grumpy man on the forehead and left, thinking of costumes and confetti. A cross-country wheelchair would be nice to bring back all of those. They might even need it for Gorrash if he needed recovery time.
June was born in Glasgow, Kentucky in 1957. Her real name is not known yet. She comes from a military family who used to move around a lot, hence, never really felt home in any place, and kept largely her distances with relatives. At a young age of 17 (1974), she eloped with her then fiancé and did a tour of the USA on a shoestring, aiming to stow away on a Californian ship to reach Hawaii. We find her years later, happily divorced, and sought in 5 states for various charges, primarily identity theft and credit card fraud. A chance encounter with April led her to her next scam: registering as an experienced nanny “au pair”, coming from Glasgow, Scotland. She didn’t manage to stay too long at her employs, yet a fortunate event led her to apply and be selected for the nursing of the President’s precocious baby. She loathes all that the President represents, but likes a challenge, and the irony of being a wanted con-artist on the run under the nose of the Secret Services.
The jinx on the cottage loo was finally lifted, and not before the hiemal cold had settled in, right before the Sol Invictus festivities.
Meanwhile, they’ve had occasional updates from Rukshan, who was exploring the Land of the Giants. He’d mentioned in his last telebat echoing that he’d found the elusive Master creator of Gorrash, and had hope for the dwarf. The magic binding the stones was strong he’s said, although some additional magic would help speed up the recovery process which otherwise would take probably centuries if not millennia.
Glynis had looked at the requirements; it only said
‘strong magic, born from pain, hardened in gems
– dissolve in pink clay, mix well and apply generously’.
None of her magic had seemed to fit. Pain, she’d had plenty, but her magic was born from the water element, emotions, plants and potions. She went to the nearby Library, their restricted section of applied magic was scarce, nothing really applicable there. Honestly, if she’d known her whereabouts, it would have been a task better suited to Eleri. Her kind of area of expertise with concrete and iron work and stone paints was a bit more unpredictable though; it could end up do more damage to Gorrash’s continuity than else; she’d quickly put that impetuous idea to rest.
Glynis was still mulling over, thinking about finding a solution when she noticed a gaunt figure was at the door. It took her a few seconds to realize it wasn’t a stranger, but a familiar friend. Rukshan had returned, although verily worn down by his travails, with a full grown beard that gave him a seriouser look. Without thinking, she went to hug him. Such unusual display of affection did surprise the Fae who was beeming.
He smiled widely at Glynis and showed her an unusually large ampoule: “I’ve found the kind of magic our friend needs. These three Giant’s gallstones weren’t a picnic to obtain, I can tell you.”
“I can’t wait to hear all about this exciting story.” interrupted Eleri.
Bert tells me it’s new years eve today. Looking forward to the champagne and fireworks I said to him. Joking of course. The wonder is that I even remembered what such things were. Bert looked sharply at me then, bit strange it was. Then he relaxed a bit and had a peculiar secretive smile on his face. Of course that’s easy to say in retrospect, that he had a secretive smile on his face. But little did I know at the time.
I’d been in the doldrums ever since that hot air balloon thing didn’t materialize into anything. I told Bert about it, and he went off down to the Brundy place, gone ages he was, and came back saying it was nothing. He had an odd spring in his step though which puzzled me a bit at the time, but I was so deflated after the excitement of thinking something might actually happen for a change, and when it didn’t, well, I couldn’t be bothered to think about Bert acting funny.
When Bert had a shower and asked me to iron ~ iron, I ask you! ~ his best shirt, I was more depressed than ever. If Bert goes mad as well, then where will we be? I was already wondering if I’d started hallucinating and if that was a sign of madness. I’d been catching glimpses of things out of the corner of my eye all week. I’d even heard stifled giggles. It was unnerving, I tell you.
When Bert suggested I have a shower as well, and asked if I still had that red sequinned dress I started to worry. What was he thinking? Then ~ get this ~ he asked if I had red knickers on.
Bert! I said, aghast.
He mumbled something about it being a tradition in Spain to wear red underpants on new years eve, and surely I hadn’t forgotten?
I gently reminded him that we weren’t in Spain, and he said, You’re damn right this isn’t Kansas anymore, hooted with laughter, and fairly skipped out of the room.
I sat there for a bit pondering all this and then thought, Hell, why not? Why not wear red knickers and that old red sequinned dress? Why not have a shower as well?
And much to my surprise I found I was humming a song and smiling to myself as I went to find that old red dress.
“Init been quiet as being caught in the doldruffs, my Mavis?” Sha was sandwiched in the cryogenic apparatus like a tartine in a toaster, with her ample person protruding like cheese squeezed in too much.
The door flung open.
“Good Lord, aren’t them splendigious, those little tarts, meringue and all.”
Berenice, Barb’s niece, trotting in his steps, taking her role as the new temp assistant very seriously was about to voice a response that he quickly tutted away. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
“Took me a while to find out the thread though, buried through all that poubelle creative thinking and monologues, and bla and bla. Action all gone missing safe for a little excitement in Tik…” He stopped, looking around suspiciously. “They’re here, I know. Stop it, now. Hey. Shut up!”
“He’s been acting all strange, since he cracked that red crystal.”
“Shht, Glo. You don’t want him to get mad and stop all our beauty treatment. I can feel my skin tighten and dewrinkle.”
“T’is like ironing, fussure. Some steam and a good hot iron to remove the wrinkles.”
“Ahahah, wrinkles yourself, they’re more like crevices, hihihi!”
“But first, nuffin like a ice treatment to tighten the glutes.”
“Oh uhuh, haha, she said glutes like a snotty beauty specialist. Next she’ll say we need to do Pontius Pilates…”
Berenice couldn’t help herself. She blurted out in one quick sentence “But what are you planning to do with them, Doctor?”
He paused a moment his conversation with the invisible guests then turned nonchalently at B.
“But just… perfecting them, sweet thing. Oh, and love what you did with the beehive.”FloveParticipant
“Here you are then,” said the driver. They were parked outside of an imposing iron gate with a large padlock. “This is as far as I can take you. I dont have authority to go any further.”
“Authority? You mean this is it?” said Maeve. “All I can see are trees.”
“Usually there is someone here to open the gate when visitors arrive. Must be running late. That’s not like them.”
“Oh,” said Maeve. “They aren’t actually expecting us. I mean, we didn’t make an appointment or anything.”
The driver shook his head and laughed. He turned his head to look at them. “I might as well take you back then. You don’t get in here without being expected.” He started the engine.
“Wait!” said Maeve. “We haven’t come all this way to give up. Have we?” She looked at Shaun-Paul who, after a moment of hesitation, nodded.
Liz was not pleased about the latest insubordinate action of those plotting against her. Fashion choices indeed! She had been sorting out her wardrobe, having to do it all herself because of Finnley’s latest scam to take time off, putting away the summery things and bringing out the clothes for the coming cooler weather.
She’d had the usual little thrill at seeing familiar old favourites, clothes that she’d felt comfortable and happy in for many years. It would be unthinkable to throw them out, like tossing out an old friend just because they were getting wrinkled and saggy, or fat in the wrong places.
Liz prided herself on her thoughtfulness about the environment when making her “fashion” choices, always choosing second hand items. She liked to think they already had a little of their own history, and that they appreciated being rescued. She abhorred the trends that the gullible lapped up when she saw them looking ridiculous in unflattering unsuitable clothes that would be clearly out of fashion just as they were starting to look pleasantly worn in.
Warming to the theme, Liz recalled some of the particularly useless garments she’d seen over the years. Woolly polo neck sweaters that were sleeveless, for example. In what possible weather would one wear such a thing, without either suffering from a stifling hot neck, or goose flesh arms? High heeled shoes was another thing. The evidence was clear, judging by the amount of high heeled shoes in immaculate only worn once condition that littered the second hand markets. Nobody could walk in them, and nobody wanted them. Oddly enough though, people were still somehow persuaded to buy more and more new ones. Maybe one day in the future, collectors would have glass fronted cabinets, full of antique high heeled shoes. Or perhaps it would baffle future archaeologists, and they would guess they had been for religious or ritual purposes.
Liz decided to turn the tables on this new character, Alessandro. She would give him a lesson or two on dress sense. The first thing she would tell him was that labels are supposed to be worn on the inside, not the outside.
“One doesn’t write “Avon” in orange make up on one’s face, dear, even if it’s been seen in one of those shiny colourful publications,” Liz said it kindly so as not to rile him too much. “One doesn’t write “Pepto Dismal” in pink marker pen upon ones stomach.”
“While you’re out, I’ll see what Liz has thrown out, so I can cut it up for dolls clothes,” Fnnley said, to which Liz retorted, “I have thrown nothing out.” Liz cut Finnley short as she protested that Liz didn’t wear most of it anyway. “Yes, but I might, one day.”
Turning to Alessandro, she said “Although I’m a busy woman, I will come shopping with you, my boy. You clearly need some pointers,” she added, looking at his shoes.
The Doctor was at times confused about his own plan. Well, most of the time if felt clear and perfectly diabolical, and he could easily understand why at times lesser minds could get confused about the twists and turns —and to those lesser minds, it would usually suffice to say “don’t worry, it’s all part of the Plan.” It was difficult to properly phrase the sentence so that the Plan doesn’t get too easily confused with any plan. But he was expert in conveying that it wasn’t a mere plan.
After having tried and used old or elaborate devices beyond known technology like alleged alien crystal skulls to outcomes of various satisfaction in the past, he’d realized that those so called AI technologies were a silent gangrene for the mind. By becoming more tech-savvy, people lost their savoir and their savour by relying too much on external support. People were becoming malleable, predictable, and replaceable.
His bloody assistant was a sad testament to the downward evolution humanity was rushing towards. It was a strange and sad irony, that by enhancing their ineptitude, he was actually working to the perfection of the human race.
“Ah yes! Evolution!” That was his legacy, and he was of course profoundly misunderstood.
This whole sad business with the chase after the dolls and the keys and the remote control of magpies, and the psychic blasts, beauty treatments and Barbara enhancements, all that made sense once you showed it in the proper light. These were the catalyst to the real and interesting events. The ones which mattered.
It all started after the Army got him out of his prison rot in exchange for his work on some special science experiments. Top-secret, evidently. His handler, a certain nobody by the name of Fergus, was assigning him the experiments.
While he was dutifully working on his assigned projects, he quickly realized that he was given vast funding which would have taken him more time to gather on his own, so he did his part, all while experimenting and honing his skills. Clearly, the Army lacked any vision beyond the confines of “find a better way to torture, maim or kill mass amount of individuals.” Primates. Luckily, their experiments with remote control, brainwashing, and body modelage were less gory than the average science experiments, and far more into his own area of expertise.
It took him 5 years to escape. This plan (a smaller plan, part of the Plan which had not yet fully hatched at the time) — this plan for an escape started to form when Fergus let slip important bits of information, which seemed insignificant taken in isolation, but meant a whole new area of discoveries when put together by a brilliant mind like his own.
Fergus started to gloat about securing some secrets as a blackmail or fail-safe policy in case the Army’s “hired help” misbehaved. This part was known for a long time, it was what was called our ‘retirement plan’ in the contract we signed. What was more peculiar was when he started to let details slip about the method. All thanks to little doses of hypnotic potion in spiked shared drinks, courtesy of the Doctor. It seemed clear that this elaborate scheming of keys and dolls was child’s play and nothing particularly genius, however what was more interesting was when Fergus started to realize that the dolls his niece had made somehow matched certain persons of interest without her conscious knowing. There was a deeper mystery to be cracked, and even Fergus wondered if the Army had not tempered with his family genetics to induce certain characteristics or something of the like. Well, all ramblings of a simpleton you would say, but maybe it wasn’t.
After all these searches to externalize certain abilities of the mind, the Doctor was starting to get fascinated by people exhibiting these qualities naturally.
The appearance of this strange red crystal seems to confirm these doubts. There are untapped forces at play, and maybe doors that could be opened.
Barbara suddenly irrupted into the room “Our guests are coming, just received a text!”
The Doctor sighed thinking some doors should remain closed.
Jerk was waiting for the courrier to pick-up the documents and deliver the mail before closing down, and while the mall’s activity was still painfully slow, he was observing the tos and fros of the few people outside.
Summer was on its last leg, and there were signs that the city workers would soon come back. Nothing like cranky business people in addition to cranky old people to spice up your day.
Maintenance had not come yet. He’d noticed his dead pixel had stopped blinking anyway. Instead it was showing a single red dot.
The courrier guy arrived at last. “Never a quiet time, man!” he said maybe as a sort of excuse for his tardiness. Maybe Jerk needed to change his own line of work, since the other’s job looked so thrilling. He signed the documents distractedly, and was ready to lower the iron curtain to close the shop when the guy called him back. “Oh wait, I forgot to give you that.”
Jerk looked at the letter, and opened it to find a postcard. That’s when he remembered he’d given the address of the mall to the mysterious Ms M. from the findmydolls forum. Couldn’t be too careful, there were so many weirdos on the Internet.
It came from Australia? Half a cup of blue sand was enclosed in a clear plastic wrap bag, along with the postcard.
The postcard wasn’t saying much, but it was intriguing.
“No network there, so I’m sending a card. Hope it will reach in time. You must flood your group with fake addresses of dolls. It’ll send mysterious nefarious parties off-track and avoid casualties. Otherwise, lovely weather, beautiful scenery. Ms M.
PS: Do what you want with the blue powder, I just found it too lovely not to share.”
“Any news from our two insubordinate scouts?”
“I’m afraid not M’am. Phone coverage isn’t that good in the bush I hear.”
“Stop that nonsense! What tells you they’re aren’t just squandering my newspaper’s money over unearned mojitos doing precious nothing like gator’s watching on a beach, hmmm?”
“I think they’d call that gathering clues M’am.”
If Ricardo hadn’t be so earnest, she would have slapped him in the face for his attempt at humour, but he was blissfully unaware of the unwanted irony and impertinence of his retort.
You’re going soft… she mused to herself, while snapping electrical wires together making a splash of sparkles in the air. The makeshift interrogation room was ready.
When Hilda received the message from her old friend Lucinda her first thought was Miss Bossy Pants award for the “Most Stylistic Synchronistic Article”. There was already a synchronicity because she’s also had a tip off from some guy calling himself “Superjerk”, which was also about dolls. If she followed the lead about the doll stories, and managed to connect them together, it could be the scoop of the year ~ whether or not there was an actual connection between them.
Hilda had made copious notes from the long and garbled telephone conversation with Lucinda about everything she knew thus far, and where she was stuck. Clearly the poor dear needed Hilda’s special expertise in following a lead and putting the clues together to form a picture. Admittedly Hilda didn’t always stick to facts ~ who did in journalism these days anyway! But she had an intuition that this was just what she needed to get her teeth into. It had been a boring year in the extreme reportage department. Extremely boring.
It had been years since Hilda had been in contact with Lucinda, and that had been on a remote viewing forum. Neither of them had been much good at it, but some of the other members had been brilliant, so it came in useful at times to use their expertise. Hilda made a mental note to rejoin that forum, if it still existed, or find another one. She changed her mind about the mental note, and jotted it down in her notebook. It was a good idea and could come in handy.
The short and cryptic note from the guy calling himself Superjerk didn’t provide much information other than the synchronicity, which was of course noteworthy. And he had provided the link to that website “findmydolls.com”. The story was already starting to show promising signs of weaving together.
Not wanting any of the other staff to cotton on to her new thread, Hilda told Miss Bossy Pants that she was going to investigate the “hum” in Cadiz. That peculiar Horns of Gabriel phenomenon that occurred randomly around the world had been heard over a wide area of Cadiz and Seville. Hilda had another old friend in that neck of the woods; so she could easily pretend she was there covering that story, with a bit of collaboration from her friend, while she embarked on the real journey to the Flying Fish Inn, in some godforsaken outpost of the outback.
That nosy Connie had somehow managed to find out about the whole thing, eavesdropping again no doubt, and Hilda had no option but to come clean with her and ask her to join her in ironing out the story. They would have to deal with Miss Bossy Pants later. If the scoop was the success that Hilda anticipated, then they would be getting an award, not a reprimand.
It was worth it. Hilda felt more alive than she had done in a long time.
“Take your pills dear, you’re starting to sound like an old crone again. I think I’ve seen the little girl they speak about, Nesingwarys. She’s in the same class as Tak; with a name like this, hard to forget. Anyway, I’m also not sure what we are doing in this tavern. Wait! Now I remember” Glynnis leaned towards Eleri with an ironic smile on her face “it’s because you said you had a clue there was something fishy happening here. Always fancied yourself the knight in shiny armor, defender of the widow and the orphan, or simply enjoying sleuthing, I couldn’t really figure it out.” She stopped to catch her breath. The gin tonic from the tavern seemed to make her more prolix that she was used to.
It was also a rare occasion for her to travel to the nearby city for other than groceries and school matter for Tak.
They had rebuilt the cottage in the past few months, but it had been a long and painful process. Parts of it lacked convenience; the loo was still a hole in a ground in the garden. At least she was happy the back and forth trips to the blacksmith and the carpenter were over. Mostly now the joiner was a pain. He’d sent a telebat last day again that his cart had been impounded and not a few hours later, that he’d broken his hand with a hammer. She could swear he was making those excuses on the fly and meanwhile, they were all missing a modern and convenient loo. And there were only so many fragrant oils one could use…
“Look, now who’s the boring one! OK, OK, but before we go back, we still have this letter to deliver Margoritt in the city. Let’s go.”
There was something oddly off about the new store where Jerk was assigned.
It’d taken him a few weeks to start realize it, as he was trying to get accustomed to the new environment.
The more he looked, the more the feeling was getting reinforced. There was for one, this door to the other storey that was blocked by a sort of impregnable charm. Did he unwittingly blocked himself out of this place? Unlikely, as he was usually given the keys to all sorts of places.
This was definitely annoying as much as it was unusual.
It was like the neighbours, who’d seemed friendly enough, and despite that, there was something that was missing in their interactions.
A flaming giraffe for instance, he would have understood the appearance, but a slow smothering of unbridled creativity was a first.
Where did the fun go?
They’d said at the last Worldwide Wisdom (a.k.a. Woowoo) Convention that they were done with the Tranche of Truth, and now entering the Tranche of Rules.
Seems like someone was playing with the rules of the Reality Firewall, and that was not enjoyable…
That, and those cravings for granola cookies, dreams of roasted marshmallows over a firecamp and red balloons in an elevator… Where was it coming from?
The red woman led Shawn Paul through small busy streets. Shawn Paul had never seen that many people with dogs and parked bikes all gathered in strategic places each time he was about to catch up on her. He swore he could hear her giggle.
Eventually she entered a cafe called Red Beans. Shawn Paul steered through white tables and chairs made of wrought iron and followed her in, breathless. He had never seen the point in running before. But he still wasn’t sure why he had to catch her. What would he do? Talk to her? Ask her what she did perched on trees and smiling?
There seemed to be only the bartender who was busy with a huge coffee machine, hissing like a locomotive. A colour, a movement on his right made Shawn Paul turn, and he just had the time to catch sight of a red hat going down the stairs. She certainly went to the toilets. He thought that maybe following her downstairs would be too creepy, but at the same time he didn’t want the bartender to talk to him either.
So he went down and waited at the door. The lock was red, showing someone was inside.
Shawn Paul waited. There were many flyers of parties and events pinned on a wall, but he wasn’t the party guy and his eyes flew over the messy images and texts that seemed scattered on the wall.
After five minutes he wondered if something had happened and pushed the door. It was open and the lock was broken, always showing red. He tutted and shook his head. He had been foolish, he thought. There has certainly been nobody there since the beginning. There was no girl sitting on trees with red sandals.
He got out of the cafe and was ready to walk back to his apartment with his granola cookies. When someone called him. He turned and stared at a girl and a guy having drinks on the Red Beans’ terrace.
“I was sure it was you, Shawn Paul,” said the girl. “I thought I recognised you when you ran inside earlier, but you seemed in such a hurry,” said a girl. She had a big grin and a pony tail.
Her face looked familiar, all rosy and cheeky. She had a nice jacquard sweater and a matching skirt, and she was waving at him cheerfully. Her cocktail was full of reds, blues and yellows.
“Remember me? Lucinda, from the apartment on the other side…” she added.
It suddenly dawned on him, they had met once or twice. She had said they should meet again, but they never had. He felt a bit trapped, not knowing what to say.
“Hi,” he said, and he looked at the guy. He had never met him, that he was sure of.
The guy looked as embarrassed as himself by the intrusion.
“Hi. I’m Jerk,” he said.
“Are you going to the party tonight?” asked Lucinda pointing at a flyer on the table. She took a sip of her cocktail.
Shawn Paul was about to decline with a ready made up excuse when he saw what was on the flyer. It was a big red balloon with a red hat on a starry background. It said “Reception of the French Ambassador. Free Buffet with Ferrero Rochers and Champagne”.
Shawn Paul pulled closer one of the heavy metal chairs and sat with them.
“Tell me more about it,” he said instead.
“You’ve been careless. The ghosts have been following you.”
The Queen had not moved nor spoken. It was her emissary who was talking in her stead, as customary.
In the morning, at the break of dawn, Rukshan had summoned the Court, by calling in an owl with the old speech of their tongue.
It was not long before he was found and guided to a careful ritual of purification before he was allowed in front of their sovereign.
The idea struck him like lightening. Following me? Was that what happened?
“You look surprised. Another sign of carelessness. Now, they are wandering around our walls of magic fire, they are following you. As a result of our actions, we are exhausting our stores of magic to put defenses in place, putting our civilisation in peril. What have you to say for your defense?”
“Throw me in iron jail” a shudder ran through the small crowd “kill me if you think I deserve it.” Rukshan paused for dramatic effect “But it won’t solve your predicament, will it?”
He felt a rush of defiance coursing through his veins. They couldn’t hold him against his will, there wasn’t any ban on improper use of magic, nor any punition for that, and if they wanted to get rid of the ghosts, they’d better let him go.
“Let him go.” The breaking of protocol made everyone fuss around, until the Queen silenced everyone with a regal wave of hand. “Let him go.” She turned her gaze to meet his. “You think you are better than us, by renouncing the old ways, trying to define your own, but you are not above natural laws. They will follow you until you find how to appease them. I do hope, for the sake of all, that you will find a way. Humans may think they have tamed the wild, but the wild is rising and cannot be contained. The forest will see to it, and you better hurry. We will give you what you need for your journey, and three days to prepare.”
There was no way around it. As hard as he would have tried, he couldn’t reach the peaks of the mountain without crossing the part of the Enchanted Forest which the Fae called their own. There was no way for him to avoid paying the price, or to avoid facing the Court.
Rukshan wished there was an easier way, but trying to avoid it would only delay the inevitable. Besides, he would need provisions to continue his journey —that is, if they’d let him.
The first signs of the enchanted signposts had appeared two days ago. He’d been walking through the silent and cold forest for close to ten days already. His progress was slow, as the days were short, and the nights were better spent recuperating.
The early signs that he was approaching the Fae land wouldn’t have been noticeable by any other than those with some Fae blood in their veins. Some were as subtle as enchanted dewdrops on spiderwebs, other few were watcher crows, but most of the others were simply sapling trees, shaking at the slightest change of wind. All of them silent watchers of the Forest, spies for the Queen and her Court.
From the first sign, he had three days. Three days to declare himself, or face the consequences. He would wait for the last one. There was something magical about the number three, and anything more hasty would only mean he was guilty of something.
Like improper use of magic he thought, smiling at the memory of the oiliphant. The Queen was clutching at a dwindling empire, and magic sources gone scarce meant it had to be “properly” used.
He never believed such nonsense, which is why he’d decided to live outside of their traditions. But for all his disagreement, he remained one of them, bound by the same natural laws, and the same particularities. Meant to reach extremely old ages while keeping an external appearance as youthful as will is strong in their mind, able to wield strong magic according to one’s dispositions, ever bound to tell the truth (and becoming thus exceptionally crafty at deception), and a visceral distaste for the Bane, iron in all its forms.
Thus was his heritage, the one he shared with the family that was now waiting for his sign to be granted an audience in the Court.
One more day, he thought…
Kumihimo was rummaging through the content of a wooden chest at the back of the cave. According to the smell it had spent too much time in the dark and humid environment. She might have to do some spring cleaning one day. But the chest was now too heavy for her to carry. I need an apprentice for this, she thought not knowing if if was a wish or a regret.
In that chest, she had her many tools of the thread. Some were made of bones and she had carved them herself under the direction of her spirit guides. Each one had a specific purpose, either to catch, to extract, to guide, or to dissipate, and many more usages that even she had forgotten after so many years spent in that place.
She had accumulated so many things in that chest. Fortunately she liked miniature, and most of her creations were seldom bigger than her little finger. However that made it difficult to keep things in order and finding something was often a real challenge. So she sang lullabies to lure the object she was looking for out of their sanctuary.
Victory! she exulted in the ancient tongue, which would translate also as ‘I have done all that is necessary to harvest the benefits of the next crop’. Kumihimo liked simple things and she liked when one word could signify a very complex meaning. Under an old donkey skin that she often used to camouflage herself when she was going down in the valley, she had found the loom she had been looking for.
The loom was made from the right shoulder blade of a bear. It was one of the first objects she had carved when she arrived in the vicinity. It had a yellowish patina and felt very smooth in her hands. Its shape was octagonal and each side had seven notches under which were three rows of symbols, some of the ink was gone after so many years, but she could still feel the groove where she had carved them. She smiled at the fond memories and at the dear friend who allowed her to take his bone when he died of old age.
In the centre of the loom was a heart with a circular hole in it. It was where the braid would emerge.
Holding the precious object, Kumihimo could feel all the braids she had already made and all the potential braids that waited to come into existence. She felt warmth bloom in her heart at the task at hand.
Each notch corresponded at the same time to a time of the year, to a direction on earth and in the sky, and some rather obscure references to many other phenomenon and concepts. The weaving depended on very complex rules that she had discovered from experience. Actually the meaning weaved itself into the braid through a subtle interaction between her and Spirit. That way she didn’t have to bother about what to do or what notch to use as it would all unfold during the weaving.
She stood up and walked outside. The day was still young and she had a lot to do. The weaving ceremony was an act of spontaneity, but it required some preparation. She put the loom on a round rock to dry in the Sun and went to examine the hanging threads. She had to choose carefully.
The day after their arrival, Alexandria took Leroway and Jolly on a tour of the abandoned village, inviting them to choose a dwelling for themselves. The other new arrivals had chosen places with the least structural damage, places with roofs remaining, regardless of the size or position, for reasons of immediate practicality. Leroway set his sights on the grandest house just outside the castle walls, perched above the other houses. There was very little roof left, but the thick stone walls were standing firm, and the gaping windows provided impressive views. Jolly was delighted with the spacious inner courtyard and crumbling fountain, picturing the flowering Solandra vines she would plant there once the restorations had been completed.
Leroway had been making mental notes of salvagable materials as they toured the village, and had soon enlisted the help of Lobbocks and a few of the other young men to drag sheets of corrugated iron from crumbling pig pens and stables and other useable items up the winding streets to the house. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t long at all before Leroway had the new villagers organized into efficient teams, under his innovative direction.
Trustinghampton started to take shape. More people arrived and joined in the reconstruction process. Shelter, firewood, and food were the priorities, but Leroway had ideas for the future and during the scavenging he started to collect potentially useful items in the barn adjoining his house.
Jolly and Eleri became friends, and spent much of their days exploring the surrounding countryside in search of edible or medicinal ~ or indeed magical ~ plants. After their walks they conferred with the old woman, Cornelia, showing her the plants they’d gathered and comparing notes on their potential uses. The young women were well versed in plant lore, but the old one had the benefit of a lifetimes learning and experience.
Cornelia had always lived just outside the village, and had watched the old inhabitants gradually die off or move to the lowlands. The last ones to leave had begged her to join them, but she had refused. She had been born next to the old stones and she would die next to them. Eleri and Jolly had asked her about those strange stones, and Cornelia had enigmatically replied that one day she would tell them the secrets of the stones. When the time was right.
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